Kenya: President moves to ban vernacular broadcasting

September 6, 2000

His Excellency President Daniel arap Moi
Office of the President
Harambee House
Nairobi, Kenya

VIA FAX: 011-254-272-1515

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is disturbed by your stated intention of banning private radio stations from broadcasting in Kenya’s vernacular languages.

On August 31, 2000, at the opening of the Agricultural Society of Kenya show in Mombasa, you accused private stations that broadcast in languages other than English and Kiswahili, Kenya’s two official languages, of undermining national unity and promoting tribal chauvinism. You also ordered Attorney General Amos Wako and Information, Transport, and Communication Minister Musalia Mudavadi to draft legislation that would force private stations to broadcast only in English and Kiswahili.

Your Excellency’s order has been widely interpreted as an attack on the recently-launched and tremendously popular Kameme FM, which broadcasts in Kikuyu, Kenya’s most widely-spoken vernacular language. The proposed legislation would also affect the Nairobi-based East FM, which caters to an Indian audience with broadcasts in English and Hindi, and the Eldoret-based Rehema Radio, which broadcasts mostly religious programs in the Kalenjin language. None of these stations are known for broadcasting politically controversial programs, according to CPJ sources in Kenya.

Banning vernacular broadcasting would contravene the right to freedom of expression and the press, enshrined in such internationally recognized legal standards as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights. It would also violate section 79 of the Kenyan Constitution, which states that “no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression… [i.e., the] freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference.”

As an organization of journalists dedicated to defending the rights of our colleagues around the world, CPJ urges Your Excellency to abandon your plan to ban vernacular broadcasting. We also call on you to foster an environment in which journalists may report on political and social issues in whatever language they choose without fear of reprisal.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director